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Making a good first impression as the job search begins

With ’Cats Closet, Northwestern Career Advancement helps make sure students have proper business attire as they explore job opportunities
cats closet
Northwestern Career Advancement launched ’Cats Closet to provide students free clothes they can keep for job interviews or career opportunities. Photo by Waldemar on Unsplash

Career-minded Northwestern students like third-year communications studies major Marlene Alanis understand the value of making a good first impression.

As students prepare for job interviews, Alanis is helping to make sure that finding the right attire isn’t something students have to worry about as they polish their resumes.

Inside 630 Lincoln, career ambassadors like Alanis and the Northwestern Career Advancement (NCA) team help bring ’Cats Closet to life every Wednesday morning and Thursday afternoon.

“It’s a personalized shopping experience,” Alanis said. “Because our items are donated by Evanston residents, Northwestern staff, alumni and employer partners, it’s a more sustainable way to source your clothes as you’re looking for professional attire.”

NCA launched ’Cats Closet in 2018 to provide students free clothes they can keep for job interviews or career opportunities. Former NCA staff member Kim Corbin managed the program from 2018 until her retirement in 2022.

Taylor Kinn, associate director for Student Career Advising, said that ’Cats Closet has increased in popularity as Northwestern students return to in-person jobs, internships and career events following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Saving students from having to buy a brand-new suit just to attend a career fair, info session or coffee chat.

’Cats Closet is part of NCA’s focus on making sure professional clothing is never a barrier for students to explore career opportunities.

“One change we made is that all our employer events are now business casual to make them more accessible,” Kinn said. “We don’t want students to feel like they have to purchase a brand-new suit or have really formal business attire when they attend something like a career fair, information session or coffee chat on campus.”

And rather than simply open ’Cats Closet for students to navigate on their own, NCA staff and career ambassadors like Alanis are there to help students shop and understand the lingo of fashion in the workplace.

“I wanted to be a bridge between NCA staff and Northwestern students,” she said. “The different resources have helped me a lot, and I wanted to encourage more students to take advantage of NCA.”

Inside ’Cats Closet on a typical Thursday, career ambassadors like Alanis helps students sort through different options based on their professional needs.

Business casual? She’s got you covered. Searching for something a little more formal? No problem. The goal is to make the experience of applying for, interviewing and landing a job as a student as barrier-free as possible.

This includes headshot events hosted at ‘Cats Closet, when NCA brings in a professional photographer from the Student Affairs marketing office to take photos that students can use on sites like LinkedIn.

NCA has also found a way to make ’Cats Closet more sustainable through a unique partnership with NU Thrift, a student-run thrift shop located on campus. When NCA receives clothing items that are too casual for the workplace, they partner with student organization NU Thrift to find a new home for these gently used items.

More than just a resource, ’Cats Closet is a way to introduce students to the wide range of resources available inside the career center.

“It’s a connection point to our office and any other questions that students might have around career development,” Kinn said. “For some students, it might be their first time in our office, and it’s a way they can learn about career counseling and where they can meet employers here on campus.”

Interested in supporting ’Cats Closet? NCA keeps a wish list of items on their website.

Donations can be dropped off at Northwestern Career Advancement, 620 Lincoln St. in Evanston, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. A QR code is available for those donating to help track items as well as get a form to receive tax receipts.

’Cats Closet will be open for students to shop every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to noon and Thursday from 3 to 5 p.m. until June 6 and by appointment throughout the summer.

Austin Siegel is a writer in the Division of Student Affairs.